What Comes First: Political Polarization Or Presidential Leadership?

Matt Yglesias writes:

Iím generally skeptical of claims that lack of presidential action is the cause of legislative non-outcomes. In the case of immigration, there was a bipartisan congressional coalition behind reform and the key Republican members of that coalition decided to defect. The president canít perform inception on Mitch McConnell and make him want to do this.

But on this specific issue, I think thereís reason to believe that presidential leadership would actually be counterproductive. [. . . W]hen Presidents insert themselves into legislative debates, that induces partisan polarization. Immigration has always been an issue that scrambles both parties coalitions, and I donít think thatís changed today. A more polarized dynamic is only going to make reform harder to achieve. Of course the president would have a role in pushing a bill over the finish line, but success requires a starting baseline of genuine cooperation on the Hill.

I think that is generally wrong (political polarization happens irrespective of Presidential leadership) and it is clearly wrong with regards to the immigration issue.

The GOP hates Latinos and thus hates immigration period. They hated immigration reform when President Bush proposed it and they hated it when President Obama proposed it. Presidential leadership did not cause political polarization on immigration reform. GOP hatred of Latinos caused the political polarization on the issue.

Speaking for me only

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    If a President has a mandate... (5.00 / 3) (#2)
    by Dadler on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 12:28:02 PM EST
    ...as Obama clearly did, then it is, to quote Wrong Emmanuel, phucking retarded to do anything BUT insert yourself powerfully and passionately and for the PEOPLE at every godd-mn opportunity. THAT is what leadership is.

    The rest is just following.

    I heard possibly the lamest excuse ever (none / 0) (#5)
    by ruffian on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 01:10:59 PM EST
    the other day. Todd Purdham, Vanity Fair political writer, was on the radio talking about an article that I think comes out in the next issue. He interviewed Rahm, who told him (on the record, with attribution - I will at least give him credit for that) that presidents can't arm-twist and make deals with congressmembers anymore like LBJ did, because things are so transparent now that there could even be a special prosecutor looking into it.  Lame excuse to me, anyway. YMMV.

    That does not address the simple point of being vocal and openly advocating and drumming up support for things, which the WH seems to do way too late in the game. If they are not going to arm-twist, and they are not going to advocate, we end up with year long messes like HCR where the likes of Max Baucus step into the leadership void.


    Not only lame, but also bullsh*t (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by scribe on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 02:18:35 PM EST
    There can only be a special prosecutor if the special prosecutor is appointed by law.  The law which created special prosecutors and allowed them to be appointed lapsed about 10 years ago and was not re-enacted.

    So, there could not be a special prosecutor at all.


    LBJ (none / 0) (#7)
    by TomStewart on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 01:33:40 PM EST
    knew which arms to twist, and how hard he had to twist them. Obama doesn't have anyone to put the fear of god and the voters in them to get what he needs done, done.

    False. (none / 0) (#12)
    by scribe on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 02:25:23 PM EST
    They all know that he appoints US Attorneys and that they serve at Obama's pleasure.  If he wanted to, he could appoint the recalcitrant congresscritter's worst political enemy to the job - even on an acting basis or as a recess appointment - with the implicit instruction to go to town.

    Or, how about "how's the Missus' coke problem coming, Congresscritter?"

    Or, how about "that's one hell of a hot secretary you got in your office.  I hear [NSFW] ...".

    Or, even more subtle, get out there the old story:  "Nobody listens to Congresscritter Reluctant anymore.  Oh, you do listen to Reluctant?  I guess that makes you Nobody."

    The number of levers of power and armtwisting available are such as to boggle the mind and are limited only by the imagination.


    LBJ also knew (none / 0) (#15)
    by brodie on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 02:44:36 PM EST
    which arms were twistable.  

    Not everyone was susceptible to the Johnson Treatment, and Big Daddyism, like any other approach, has its limits.

    What was a major difference then and now is the nature of the GOP and the willingness of a fair number of their ranks to engage on an issue for the betterment of the country.

    What Obama needs to do, at the least, is not do some cheap overhyped LBJ imitation, but start taking to the bully pulpit and making a forceful case, while using all exec order and recess appointment powers to handle other matters.


    But your assumption is that he (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by Anne on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 03:39:55 PM EST
    would use the bully pulpit and the executive orders and the recess appointments to advance a populist, Democratic agenda that lifts people up, reins in the corporations, strengthens and supports the rights of women, gays and people of color, shows respect for privacy rights, is not afraid to subject detainees to a civilian judicial system, subscribes to and advances monetary and economic policies that do not see social safety-net programs or the people who need them as fair game to ensure the elite do not have to sacrifice, and embraces the Constitution in a way that shows respect for and understanding of it as a bulwark against the will of regressive and authoritarian majorities.

    If you can point me to some examples of his efforts to do any of that, I might be inclined to reserve a smidgen of hope that that is a direction he aspires to - but I don't think that's possible.  On issue after issue, he has shown himself to be indifferent to the little people, admiring of the skills of the "savvy" businessmen who have led us down this garden path, dismissive of the rights of women and minorities, and really, really in love with authoritarian power.

    There is nothing stopping Obama from being the Democrat we need him to be, except Obama himself; how we get him or the Democratic Party to be what we need them to be is anyone's guess, but I'm more convinced than ever that it's an exercise in near-futility.


    Maybe you first have to subscribe (5.00 / 3) (#3)
    by Anne on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 12:28:38 PM EST
    to the concept that the president is essentially powerless - that really helps the argument that not only is there not much he can do, but doing something might not help.

    What weakens the argument that Yglesias is making are the instances where the president has inserted himself, has brought pressure to bear and has obtained the results he wanted.

    The key, it seems to me, is not whether Obama says he wants reform, but how much he is willing to actually do to get it - how many arms he will twist, how many threats he will issue, how many closed-door meetings he will have; perhaps his actions, or the lack thereof, reveal that he is more closely aligned with the GOP on this than reform-minded Democrats want to admit.

    The same sort of parsing that was (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 12:39:19 PM EST
    politically applied to women's reproductive rights.  It is only meant to mask that they will dole out humanity to us all in politically advantageous ways while they pat us all on the head.

    It isn't as if Obama isn't capable of delivering a speech, or a thousands speeches for that matter that could compete with MLK on impact.  It is that he will not do this.

    You're right to say, BTC, that political (5.00 / 8) (#8)
    by scribe on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 01:35:47 PM EST
    polarization happens anyway.  But, IMHO, you don't go far enough.

    You should also have noted that presidential leadership either takes the reality of political polarization and puts it to use, or the president's failure to use it results in his being rolled over and smashed by it.  In so many words, this can be called the "Bully pulpit" - the president can set the terms of the debate and frame it, then use the inevitable polarization to effect his agenda.  

    It's also Rule #1 in the book called "Power" - i.e., "Use it.  Not using power is as good as not having power, and will result in power accruing to someone else."

    I have long since come to the conclusion that Obama is not some simpering weakling inside coward-bully outside (that would be Rahm, FWIW).  Rather, he is doing and getting exactly what he wants.  

    Remember, one of Obama's closest friends pre-WH was Rahm - that was one of the reasons we were given to sweeten his appointment as CofS in the first place.  In politics, it's rare to have friends of divergent philosophy, and it usually only comes after many years in office, once you've been through the wars and seen how they come out.  Obama and Rahm can be said to have exactly the same philosophy, more so because despite all Rahm's screwups during the HCR Via Dolorosa, Obama never gave any public thought to firing him. And Rahm is nothing if not a corporatist.

    But let's look at the rest of it.  We have had revealed to us over the last 18 months or so just how thoroughly Obama is a corporate whore.  If things were truly bad, wouldn't Corporate America and its owners want a change?  But Corporate America is making record profits and doing so with even less employees.  Why would they want any change to that?  We have seen there is no change on the horizon and surely little to none has come already. Two conclusions can be drawn from this:  Corporate America and by extension Obama like things the way they are just fine.  Those things they don't like, get changed.

    Second, and perhaps more importantly, Obama and Rahm and Corporate America are just fine with a narrow Democratic majority or even a Democratic minority in one or both houses of Congress.  That way, the Blue Dogs (effectively founded and headed by Rahm since some of you may have forgotten) will hold the balance of power in Congress.  Do the math:  If things are 210 Rep- 210 Dem, the the 15 Blue Dogs in the middle determine what does and does not get done.  Even 8 of them would decide the outcome, in that example.  We've already seen all the effort spent in getting one senator to change their vote to msake 60 - it will happen in the House.  (NB:  note also that every Dem candidate supported by Obama in a primaried election has been either a Blue Dog, or a DINO like Specter.  EVer wonder why?) We've seen that in operation over the last two years in the Senate.  Nominess who would have shaken things up (Dawn Johnsen first among them) get hung out to dry on the rack of Blue Dog opposition - actually not even explicit opposition but rather just a "we don't have the votes", even when there were 60 Democrats in the Senate.  Does anyone here really think Ben Nelson would go off the reservation as often and as flagrantly as he has without the tacit approval and perhaps encouragement of the White House?  Address it from the other direction:  Do you think Ben Nelson would continue going off the Democratic reservation after receiving a call from Obama (or Rahm or a staffer) sayng "Don't ever do that again" with the "or else" implicit?

    Nope.  Barry's getting exactly what he and his corporate masters want.  Stability.  Gridlock.  No rollback of the gains - reorienting and gaming the system, especially - Corporate America made in the Bush years.  Profitability.  The one thing which threatens those states is a strong Democratic majority, because they want change.  And Corporate America, ossified and tied up in massive debt and without any real talent left (all the talent went into the degenerate gamblers' houses of Wall Street) cannot adapt to change.  They know it, and demand no change.

    So, the WH does what it can - a lot, BTW - to effect that:  depress enthusiasm in the Dem base, present and push truly awful corporate whore candidates and wreck the candidacies of non-whore candidates, and generally destroy the grassroots (50 State strategy, anyone?  That bought it within days of the last election.) in favor of a top-down command politics.

    Oh, and they even made sure to omit reconciliation so that can't be used next year like it was to finally get HCR.

    Nope.  They're getting what they want in the WH, and why should they care.  Obama will never have to buy lunch again and he is sure to make gobs of money writing awful books or sitting on boards ofdirectors or investing in real estate with a billionaire buddy (like Bill Clinton did).

    Barry doesn't care about you.  Never did.  Never will.  In fact, he hates you because he sees you as being beneath him.  After all, he went to Harvard and you didn't.

    Would give this a 1,000 rating if I could. (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by Anne on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 02:32:55 PM EST
    I don't know how much more obvious it could get that Obama's getting exactly what he wants - and more Republican seats in Congress is probably going to make it easier to keep that trend going, not harder.

    Pretty sickening all the way around.


    Thanks! (none / 0) (#18)
    by scribe on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 03:53:42 PM EST
    Once again, (none / 0) (#22)
    by NYShooter on Thu Aug 12, 2010 at 07:40:11 AM EST
    I've been saying, more or less, the same thing since the beginning. One of my first posts when B.O. got into the race was, "The Greatest Con-Job the World has ever seen." He brought together a cynical coalition of supporters, and a bunch of Madison Ave, marketers to sell the fairy tale. I called him a sociopath then, and it, unfortunately has proven to be a correct diagnosis.

    He is a dangerous man, a very dangerous man. Since he has shown himself capable of duplicity unlike that of even a R. Nixon, what he holds in store for us is completely unknown.

    Call me paranoid, but I believe its not unworthy of comment that Michelle Obama, conspicuously, absents herself from Barack's ceremonial signing events. While Barry was signing the fin-reg bill, while the sickening unemployment numbers were announced, and while BP's slime was still infecting the Hemisphere, she thought it appropriate to very publicly drown her sorrows in a 5-star resort, with Air Force 2 as her private carriage.

    B.O. is not the only Obama that knows how to give the flipper salute to the American public.


    Bush's push for immigration reform (none / 0) (#1)
    by Cream City on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 12:19:29 PM EST
    actually brought bipartisanship of a sort, didn't it?  I mean, a couple of Republicans supported it.

    It did. I remember that being a true bipartisan (none / 0) (#6)
    by ruffian on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 01:13:52 PM EST
    effort until it got held hostage by the far right. Really too bad for everyone involved, pols and immigrants alike.

    So Bush was better at bipartisanship (5.00 / 2) (#16)
    by Cream City on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 02:53:21 PM EST
    than is his successor.

    Now, that is truly a sad commentary on the current resident of the White House.


    How is this even (none / 0) (#9)
    by lilburro on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 01:47:49 PM EST
    remotely connected to reality?  The GOP has made it clear that they are going to vote the party line time and time and time again (with the exception of our Presidents Snowe and Collins...where have they been anyway?).  That's where the political polarization is.  On every issue.  The end.

    Yeah, hard to make it any more polarized than (none / 0) (#10)
    by ruffian on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 02:13:22 PM EST
    'We are going to block everything'.

    OTOH (none / 0) (#13)
    by pluege2 on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 02:28:37 PM EST
    republican/conservative intransigence on immigration is a political winner for democrats. I wouldn't think they're in such a hurry to resolve anything and thereby alleviate the republican circle firing squad.

    Good grief! (none / 0) (#19)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 04:34:14 PM EST
    The GOP hates Latinos...

    I hope this is not becoming a hate site.  Shame on you.

    Explain how they don't (5.00 / 2) (#20)
    by Dadler on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 05:03:11 PM EST
    I'll be waiting.

    What? You think what they really mean is its time to crack down on all those Canadian and European undocumented folks?  

    Please, the GOP had decided to become anti-immigrant, which has translated, CLEARLY, into anti-Latino. Actions speak louder than words. Their actions do not compensate for any qualifiers they might add after their hateful rants.

    Seriously, you cannot be this blind to reality, anymore than I could be blind to the fact that white folks still have huge advantages over non-whites in this country.


    They're sh*tting themselves (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by jondee on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 05:27:20 PM EST
    over more people coming into the country who cant be relied on to vote Republican AND just plain desperate to somehow appear relevant (hence the desperate wedge-issue flogging) after 8 years of showing up, for all the world to see, the utter bankruptcy of their platform.

    And if it takes appealing to xenophobia and hatred to rally the troops, that's what they'll continue doing.

    We're talking about the people who sabotaged the Paris Peace Talks, stalled the release of the Iranian hostages and spread the story that Vince Foster and Ron Brown were murdered, after all. They're not going to suddenly start being honorable now.